Parents, guardians and caregivers: overview

This chapter provides information about the legal responsibilities of parents and guardians and about the legal processes that are available for resolving disputes between them.

The chapter covers:

  • the Family Court and its processes
  • guardianship of children, including who a child’s guardians are and the guardians’ responsibilities
  • care arrangements when parents have separated, including how to apply for a parenting order if there’s a dispute about day-to-day care or contact
  • parents moving (“relocating”) within New Zealand, and abduction of children from New Zealand
  • child support, including when a parent is responsible for paying child support and how the amount is calculated
  • paternity (fatherhood), and how the paternity of a child can be legally established
  • termination (abortion) law
  • adoption, including who can adopt and how the adoption process works.

Major changes to the Family Court in 2014

Care of Children Amendment Act (No 2) 2013; Family Dispute Resolution Act 2013

Major changes to Family Court processes were introduced in March 2014, particularly for people applying for orders to resolve disputes about care arrangements or guardianship issues.

This is a brief summary of the changes:

  • The Family Court no longer provides free counselling and mediation services in all cases. A new mediation process called Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) has been introduced, which is free only to people earning under a certain amount. Family Dispute Resolution is usually compulsory if you take a dispute about care arrangements (parenting orders) or guardianship issues to the Family Court. Some free counselling may be available in some cases.
  • Usually a person applying for a parenting order must also have completed a Parenting Through Separation course before they can apply.
  • The role of lawyers in Care of Children Act processes is now restricted. A lawyer can represent you and appear with you in court only at certain stages of a case (the final court hearing in most parenting order cases) or in certain types of cases (such as urgent cases, or international child abduction). Legal aid is therefore restricted to those situations where you’re allowed a lawyer.
  • In those situations when you’re not allowed to have a lawyer represent you, you are however allowed to get background help from a lawyer – for example, to help you with your application. A free Family Legal Advice Service has been introduced to provide that kind of background help for people who qualify; other people will need to see their own lawyer for this.
  • It’s no longer standard in Care of Children Act cases for the court to appoint a lawyer to represent the child. A lawyer for the child will now only be appointed if the judge has particular concerns about the child’s safety or well-being. If one is appointed, the parents will usually have to pay two thirds of the lawyer’s fees.

These changes are explained in more detail in the rest of this chapter. You can also get information from the websites of the Ministry of Justice ( www. and the Family Court ( www.justice.govt. nz/family-justice).

Next Section | About the Family Court

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